Ceramide is responsible for the failure of compensatory nerve sprouting in apolipoprotein E knock-out mice.
In spite of many well-documented examples of age-related reductions in neuronal plasticity, the causes of such changes remain largely unknown. One example of age-reduced plasticity involves an aberrant sprouting response of mature rat sympathetic neurons into the CNS (hippocampal formation). This phenomenon has proven to be useful for exploring the relative contribution of target aging (extrinsic influences) versus neuronal aging (intrinsic influences) to reduced sprouting. Aged sympathetic neurons mount a robust growth response when confronted with young target tissue or when exposed to exogenous trophic factor in vivo. In contrast, the aged target tissue (the hippocampal formation in this example) exhibits reduced receptivity for sympathetic sprouting. This change in the target does not appear to be due to alterations in baseline levels of trophic or substrate support for axonal growth. Rather, aging appears to dampen the consequences of target denervation so that the aged target elicits less sprouting. Age-related reductions in neuronal sprouting are speculated to reflect increasing commitment to information storage at the expense of neuronal plasticity.